The premier class race was always going to have the most tense build up, necks straining while looking to the sky (or high mounted garage monitors) for a hint at which way the weather would go. The rain gods were kind in the end and did not provide the setting for any drama on the 50th anniversary of the first Grand Prix held at Le Mans. Despite high home hopes, the locals had to celebrate the occasion by saluting Marc Marquez as he casually strolled to a dominating victory – the 300th for Honda in the premier class. With Honda grabbing the limelight, Ducati settled for some damage limitation in the championship with Andrea Dovizioso fending off teammate Danilo Petrucci for podium crumbs.
A runaway win did not mean there was no drama and it started extra early when Joan Mir and Karel Abraham parallel crashed on cold tyres on the warm up lap. An unusual sight, which also explained the almost unanimous choice of soft tyres despite limited track time on it. Amongst the people who did make the start as scheduled, Petrucci’s holeshot device worked to perfection into turn one but the poleman swiftly retrieved the lead in the next turn. With the front row configuration restored, Valentino Rossi benefitted from Dovizioso’s underwhelming start to jump to fourth, while the Ducati man dropped to seventh, behind Pol Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli. Dovizioso quickly started his comeback but all eyes were at the front, where it was all action between the leading trio on the first couple of laps. Marquez was being hounded by Petrucci and Miller but retaliated on every attack and by lap three was attempting an escape. Miller was not keen on that and picked up the chase from Petrucci, the Italian losing another couple of places to Rossi and Dovizioso by running slightly off track.
By lap four, Marquez took Miller on a roadtrip at the front, while Dovizioso picked up the chase from Rossi, the compatriots one second down already. But always the showmen, the leading duo got all the attention as Miller put a move on Marquez in turn two only to find himself under assault from the world champion on the next couple of laps, which allowed the two chasers to edge ever closer. One second back on the fearsome foursome, Pol Espargaro was enjoying some well deserved airtime in the chasing group, keeping up with Petrucci, Morbidelli and Crutchlow. At the other end of the scale, Maverick Vinales paid the price for his poor qualifying position on lap seven, when he was the unfortunate victim of Pecco Bagnaia’s crash in turn 12.
Lap ten seemed to serve the calm before the storm, Marquez getting half second’s breathing space from Miller, while Dovizioso struggled to find a way past the sister machine of the Pramac rider. However, Rossi seemed to show the first signs of weakness, the Doctor losing one second to the trio ahead and having to fend off a resurging Petrucci. The Yamaha eventually surrendered to the Ducati into turn three but Petrucci was left with a two second gap to bridge to his teammate. Meanwhile, Espargaro lost a second to the Italians ahead but was still resisting the advances of Morbidelli and Crutchlow.
By the halfway mark of proceedings it was becoming clear there was not going to be a storm, as Marquez built up a lead of a second and a half from Miller, who was still not yielding to his factory colleague. As the leaders settled their pace, cameras turned to a battle that should have been taking place about ten places higher – the one between Fabio Quartararo and Alex Rins. The Frenchman made the best of a difficult day after being pushed wide on lap three and eventually found himself engaged in battle for tenth position with an underwhelming Rins. The fight was feisty but brief, Quartararo gapping the Spaniard as soon as he found a way past and showing better pace than the leader in his chase of his next victim, Jorge Lorenzo.
Back at the front(ish), Dovizioso finally moved into second place with 11 laps remaining but his pit board was showing a three seconds gap to the leader, Marquez dropping low to mid 1:32s like they were ice-cream at the height of summer in Jerez. Miller’s podium charge faded with seven laps to go, when he surrendered third to Petrucci and started to be reeled in by Rossi’s newfound pace. Meanwhile, Quartararo put an end to the cat and mouse game with Lorenzo and was the fastest man on track, albeit down in ninth.
The final five laps started asking questions of the soft tyres forced upon riders by the temperatures and while Marquez’s answer was aided by the four second gap he had to play with, it wasn’t as easy for his pursuers. Dovizioso needed to keep his head extra cool with Petrucci, Miller and Rossi glued to his salad box and the Italian had a hard job defending second place. The podium battle was focused on the two factory Ducatis for the last three laps as Miller and Rossi were posting personal best times just to keep up. Petrucci had to wait until the final lap to make a decisive move but the right time never came and he had to settle for third - his first podium for Ducati. Miller and Rossi completed the top five, while Pol Espargaro rode one of the best races for KTM on his way to sixth, only three seconds off the podium battle. Morbidelli came home in a safe seventh place, while Quartararo got the better of Crutchlow on the penultimate lap to save his day after his early misfortunes. Rins completed the top ten, limiting the damage in the championship as well as he could after an underwhelming weekend.
Marquez not only took off at the front in Le Mans but also gained a bit of ground in the world championship standings, leading Dovizioso by eight points ahead of the Italian’s home race. Alex Rins keeps third, 20 points off the leader and with Rossi another three points back. A very unlucky Vinales drops to 10th in the championship, trailing the world champion by 65 points.
|16||36||Joan MIR||Suzuki||1 Lap|
|30||Takaaki NAKAGAMI||Honda||9 Laps|
|29||Andrea IANNONE||Aprilia||19 Laps|
|12||Maverick VIÑALES||Yamaha||21 Laps|
|63||Francesco BAGNAIA||Ducati||21 Laps|
|53||Tito RABAT||Ducati||25 Laps|
|17||Karel ABRAHAM||Ducati||0 Lap|